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Why Did YOU Come Back? - Part 1, Mihnea

It shouldn't come as a surprise, but nobody's quite unique. Following up on last week's post, I thought I'd finally reach out to some friends who are in the same boat. Returnees, tourists in our own country, repats, expats, whatever you call us we're around and it's definitely not just me.

I'd like to introduce Mihnea Dumitru, a friend and former University colleague from Toronto who's been back for quite a few years now. Here's what he has to say about coming back home and his experiences with readjustment.


1. Your formative years were spent studying abroad. Why did you come back? (I know you didn't have resident's status, but would you have preferred to stay there?)

Well, it was complicated. I was 20 when I graduated from York U, so you can't expect much from that frame of life experience. One year later, after finishing my Master's, I thought I was equally immortal and that the world was my oyster, so to speak. I didn't really have a clue about what I actually wanted to do and everything was up in the air. I lived in South Korea, it was all a pleasurable blur, kinda like a world-trekking enfant terrible. Specifically, I returned because I received a half-assed offer from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. I had no clue on how someone would get hired in the public sector in Romania and clearly no idea about what working at that specific Ministry meant. So it was a dud, but I was still a Romanian citizen and nothing else and I simply decided to stay, rather than leave again.

I didn't think Canada was the place for me, to be perfectly honest. Eastern Europe still offers more opportunities -even now!- than pretty much any sedimented society in the West. I was pretty much on equal footing in Romania or anyplace else. I had left Romania at 14 years of age and come back at 21. I was essentially a tourist in my own country anyway. And for someone who had studied foreign policy or political science, what use was there to try and get citizenship status in another country? The path is much harder and the opportunities are fewer out West.

2. While you were away, did you miss Romania? Anything in particular?

I didn't, outside missing my brother and grandparents. The former also had a similar evolution outside Romania. I didn't miss sarmale, or mici, or whatever else people normally miss after they have left. I didn't really care for Romanian society, because I never really got to know it through mature eyes. Even now, I don't miss it, and I've been back in Romania for 7 years.

3. What do you miss most about Canada?

The friends. A few of them even came back here, yourself included, but it's hard to leave even a sliver of societal inclusion when you're such a roving Romanian.
There are two kinds of emigrants, in my mind: those who leave their home country and don't ever want to come back, out of various reasons, and they embrace their new culture and those who see the Far Abroad as a simple tool in getting more money, living better for a while and then coming back to the home country without really being changed by their new surrounding countryside, so to speak. I'm more of the former, than the latter.

4. Would you say it's an advantage to come back to Romania after spending time abroad?

Hardly. I think most people that spend time outside the country should try and stay there, unless opportunities in Romania are comparatively greater (which is rare, outside my case). If you're young, you're better off, living-standard-wise.

5. Outside of school, what did you learn while living in Toronto?

I sampled multiculturalism, I made friends from pretty much every walk of life and I had some pretty interesting experiences. Didn't get into much trouble, but most of my life was spent on extra-curriculars inside campus. I did a whole lot of things, from student newspaper to student council and so on. Can't say I regret it, but I probably should have simply ingested more of T.O.

6. If you had to pick one thing to change about Romania (Romanians) what would it be?

Respect for employees, the dynamic in any workplace. I have this whole theory that Luther's religious reformation changed the way bosses and employees reacted to each other, and that Romania needs a change in perspective from that point of view, that we're backwards in the most basic moral understanding of right and wrong. It's not religious per se, it's just that the East is backwards in certain aspects, balcanic and byzantine, at the same time. Religion is ironically the only way for me to explain the need for evolution. We haven't really evolved from boyars and serfs.

7. What would you tell any Romanians in the diaspora who are considering a return to Romania?

Come home. Your car is already here.:) Seriously, there's nothing I can tell them. The folks that I talked about earlier, the ones that will eventually come back to Romania will do just that and they will bring a hint of civilized thinking, and maybe they'll change something. It's already starting, but not at a level that really changes anything. Plus, the Romanian diaspora is useful, politically speaking. It's already rescued a certain politician thrice from the chop, and I won't get into the details of it, but it's clear that Romanians abroad see things differently and have a certain natural and protective streak in regards to the home country. It's conservative, to a degree. Without it, we would evolve differently, that much is clear.

8. What do you do in Romania?

Currently I'm managing my own business. It's called Context Politic (www.contextpolitic.net), we're trying to become a local mini-Stratfor, by offering political analyses and content to the local civil servicemen and political advisors. It's off to a great start, I'm excited and hopeful that it will become a standard need in Romanian political life.
 (ms : Awesome initiative, I'm looking forward to see it grow. It's about time our politicians and policy-makers start reading something relevant. This is Brain Gain in action.)

I'd like to thank Mihnea for taking the time to write some great answers, and I encourage anyone else who's in a similar position to open up about their experiences, I'm happy to help spread the story, just send an email.




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